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Berries in the Uppermost Bough

January 2, 2014

It’s a great time of the year to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Of course, it’s one big reminder about how to use the past and future to make more of the present.


Although Ebenezer Scrooge resisted at first, he soon made the most of his night with ghosts. When all had settled, he was a changed man. “His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”

I once knew someone who enjoyed the Christmas and New Year holidays in the traditions of many Americans – Christmas music, lots of food, plenty of drinks, gift exchanges, parties and family gatherings.  He’s been gone a long time, but I remember him.  He came into the holidays with plenty of zest and intent and with more energy than most.  But there was more to this time of the year for him than first met the eye.  Inevitably, the holiday dose wasn’t strong enough for his pain.  In fact, the pleasure and ache were intertwined, because he dearly missed his loved ones and the joyous holidays they once shared.  His passion for the moment would eventually wilt with memories of the past.  I witnessed it up close, but am not sure I understood it well.  That was ages ago.

“We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
From The Meeting

When the Griswold family gathered at Clark’s dining room table the Christmas of 1989, Aunt Bethany remembered Grace, even though she had been gone for thirty years.  That’s good with me.  Grace would be pleased.

  1. Don’t know if I’ll ever reach that point where the “ghosts and guests” are hard to distinguish, Bruce. And I am old enough. Certainly living in the present and having a boatload of projects is a factor. But I think writing plays a role, as well. Writing about someone helps let them go, at least for me. –Curt


  2. Ah, the memories of Christmas past always affect our current Christmases, I believe. Even if those ‘ghosts’ are not mentioned at the table, their presence (and spirit) is nonetheless there. I hope to haunt many a Christmas holiday once I’m gone. 🙂


  3. Many thanks for this post, Bruce. The holidays can be hard some years. It is incredible comforting, though, to receive words of encouragement from friends, old and new, xo LMA


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